Small towns after Medellín treated us to a fitting Andean farewell as we continued northward. The first was Don Matías, where we shared food, song, and multiple cups of tinto (black coffee) and perico (coffee with a heavy helping of milk) with the firefighters and the family living in the fire station. Sitting around with all ages, talking about cultural differences and laughing about accents made Michael feel like he was back on SST. We even sang John Prine’s ¨Paradise¨for them (tribute to Matthew Helmuth, who taught us the song). In the morning, so many family members and firefighters offered us breakfast that we had to turn down a few.
The next day found us desperately checking hotel prices in Yarumal after failed attempts at the usual haunts. But the ever-chatty Levi chummed with a parking lot attendant who pointed to a dark corner of his enclosed lot where we could sleep. We took the offer, but shifted to the bed of a parked truck to lay out our sleeping bags in comfort and trap in our body heat for this final cold Andean night. We had chosen to stay in Yarumal because it hovered on the precipice before our descent from the Andes, and we wanted to try 200 km in one day (we successfully rode 208 km the following day). That morning we fell from the chilly mountain air back to the sweltering banks of the Río Cauca at 30 degrees Celsius (about 90 Fahrenheit).
The Caribbean coast of Colombia made for a few new habits. Supermarkets became much more attractive for lunches due to the mid-day air conditioning. We once again formed a draft line through rolling hills with water buffalo and Brahman cattle. Hauling 352 km in 2 days to Sincelejo, we treated ourselves to a lazy day on a quiet beach in Tolú. The Caribbean water was the warmest ocean water any of us had felt. Although we never had the chance to meet Jes Buller, who works with MCC, we are grateful that she opened up her apartment for us in Sincelejo.
Bike touring lends itself to many micromemories with the changing scenery: a free of bowl of papaya with honey from a dentist in a small town, Abe’s rear shifter failing and becoming friction-only, an alternative-medicine health professional prescribing a natural substitute to sunscreen for Levi’s rosy cheeks, discovering a new low price for hot beef-stock soup with rice and a cold homemade guayaba juice, reaching the last summit before seeing Cartagena and the sea in the distance.
In the historic pirate city of Cartagena we stayed in a house with JUCUM (Youth with a Mission) missionaries. These young people sleep in dormitory-style bunking, prepare community meals on a rotating schedule, and worship together every Friday night. We arrived tired on a Friday night and didn’t have time to shower before meeting everyone (a recurring lástima) but enjoyed participating in the spirit-filled service with missionaries from different parts of Colombia and the world.
Historic Cartagena is a walled colonial city and the site of a famous English-Spanish naval battle with the forts and castles to show for it. We stopped in at the San Felipe de Barajas Castle and checked out the tunnels below the fortress, carefully slanted so that the colonists would see the feet of English invaders before they could see the defending Spanish. Similar to the English, we uncomfortably lumbered, necks bent, through the tunnels designed in favor of the shorter Spanish. Once a popular destination for plundering pirates, downtown now is a honeymoon haven with horse-drawn carriage and top-dollar open air restaurants. Sitting on the rocky beach, we reflected on this great continent that we have traversed.